On 28th February 2017, SpaceX announced that they will take tourists around the moon. CEO Elon Musk proudly revealed this, arguably, foolhardy feat as the next stage of his ambition for deep space colonisation. Their new Falcon Heavy rocket will propel two wealthy Earthling tourists contained in ‘The Dragon’ capsule in a full loop of the moon and back, planned for late 2018.
However, the project is not without its fair bang of controversy. In 2015, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded two minutes after take-off, after engineers on the ground gave the command to self-destruct. The ethical dilemma is; should such a system be installed on SpaceX’s missions involving human cargo, when its use would result in the passenger’s certain death?
Engineers against moon mission murder
The self destruct function installed on the rocket ensured public safety on the ground, protecting them from an out of control rocket diving towards their homes at several kilometers a second. Additionally, the detonation mitigated significant environmental concerns arising from extremely toxic and corrosive Hypergolic propellants; 1400kg of which are contained in the solid rocket boosters (SRB’s). However, these eventualities are worst case scenarios. Should self destruction not be executed, chances of passenger survival increase infinitely, but the likelihood of other dangers marginally increases.
It is easily argued that the ordered self-destruction of a spacecraft with human cargo is murder. The actions of the engineer results directly in the death of the passengers, and the outcome is known before the button is pressed, i.e., murder. Even if a passenger were to perform the self destruct procedure, it would result in more than their own death. This is akin to a suicide pact, for which the charge of manslaughter can be brought against the passenger who pressed the button.
Therefore the issue of installing a self destruction is beyond the reach of ethical dilemmas, it’s use results in a crime, and therefore wrong by definition. The engineers installing the button could be considered an accessory to murder and also charged.
If it isn’t satisfactory enough to identify the potential crimes involved, Kant’s deontological moral theory supports the exclusion of a self-destruct system on the SpaceX rocket. The end, according to Kant, does not justify the means. If the self-destruct button was pressed, Kant’s theory says we could be following the rule ‘it is permissible to kill’, which will never be acquiescent. Consequently, the potential benefit of saving lives on the ground is not justified by the killing of two humans.
Pollock’s Freedom Principle ethical framework prohibits self-destruct systems. Pollock decrees that everyone is free to act, as long as that act does not deny or hinder the pleasure of others. It is not difficult to see that the act of deliberately exploding the rocket will negatively impact the pleasure of the space tourism passengers. Firstly, the Moon circumnavigation service that they paid for will no longer be available for them to enjoy. Secondly, their certain death means that whatever gratifying self-indulgence they had coming to them for the remainder of their life would be snuffed out by the aerial ordnance activator.
Undeniable conclusions can be drawn from the compelling criminal and ethical evidence, from historically esteemed philosophers, that to install a self-destruct system would be manifestly wrong.
The other 98%
The individuals who have signed up for Space X’s first manned trip to the moon have paid an enormous amount of money for the privilege – Space X have declined to disclose exact figures, but considering it costs NASA $80 million per astronaut to get to the International Space Station (much closer than the moon), speculation has put the ticket cost to be in the region of $175 million.
This is a purely a self-indulgent venture and as such can be likened to any extreme sport. In these circumstances, the individual must accept the unavoidable risks, which come with their actions. This statement becomes ever more prudent when considering the safety of third parties. By not installing a self-destruct sequence in the hope of saving those on board, you are essentially pushing risk onto the surrounding community without their knowledge or consent. This course of action strongly opposes any ideals of moral responsibility, where one must be willing to accept the repercussions of one’s actions. From this ethical standpoint, it is simply unacceptable to not integrate the self-destruct sequence into this program.
With this discussion in mind, it is clear that this issue should be attacked from a utilitarian point of view – in that the decision on whether to have a self-destruct function should be made to ensure the greatest amount of good is shared by the greatest number of people. From here, it is a simple matter of numbers. More people are at risk from immediate death as well as longer-term health impacts from a falling rocket and its toxic fuel than the two passengers in the rocket. In order to prevent this and execute a break-up that preserves the livelihoods of those on the ground, the self-destruct function needs to be installed.
Humanity has been pandering to the richest and most powerful for centuries, leaving us in a position where 8 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the global population. Continuing down this route of prioritising the lives of a few at the expense of the many has the potential for catastrophic ramifications for the planet and its inhabitants. The lack of a self-destruct function on a Space X tourist vehicle allows the richest in the world the opportunity to cause yet further societal, economic and environmental damage. This sends the wrong message in the early stages of the 21st century, where efforts need to be steered towards allowing every citizen on Earth a quality of life that has deemed acceptable in the economically developed world for decades.
Group 19: Terry Keys, Ipsum Lorem, Maria Henow, Francesca Regatti